Use Water to maximise growth rates and health

water trough calf drinking

Use Water to maximise growth rates, health and Production

Water is the single most essential nutrient needed by animals.

Improving the quality and palatability of the water you offer can have far-reaching health benefits and is key to maximising growth potential in young stock.

Let’s face it, cleaning out water troughs can be a smelly and tedious job and often gets pushed to the bottom of the ‘to do’ list.  But I promise you the effort will pay off.  In the days when I used to rear calves, as well as milk-calves having clean water daily I was meticulous about keeping older animals’ troughs cleaned at least fortnightly. (And I mean properly clean – without the luxury of tipping troughs a jumbo car sponge did the job of soaking up any dirt and residue from the bottom of the troughs).  When weaned calves were past the ad-lib stage and scoffing their concentrate ration as soon as it was offered, I would know immediately if there was cake left uneaten that I would find that one of the little treasures had carefully deposited some dung in the water trough, putting them all off drinking it.  That was always a stark demonstration to me of the link between truly uninhibited water consumption and optimum dry matter intake.

Put simply, because of the need for water in the rumen to aid digestion of fibre, more water intake equals more dry matter intake!

Most people are aware of the benefits of free water intake to maximise milk yields – hardly surprising when you consider that milk is 90% water.  But it is equally important in almost every other body function, and especially crucial if the animal is suffering from a condition which causes dehydration – eg scours, pneumonia (water lost through increased respiration) or any toxic infection.  Immediate pre- and post- calving intakes are also critical to metabolic recovery.  Extra clean, preferably warmed, water should be offered at all these times.

Cattle are put off drinking by:

  • Bad odour and taste caused by bacteria and their metabolic by-products
  • High nitrate content, often from faecal contamination – this has also been shown to have negative effects on fertility through nitrite toxicity in blood
  • Total Dissolvable Solids (depend on mineral content of water supply)
  • Sulphates leading to toxic hydrogen sulphide gases, evident by ‘rotten egg’ smell.

Many of these increase if water is left stale or contaminated.

Water supply costs still apply whether the water is clean or dirty, so providing clean water could reap large benefits for only a small increase in input!